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Being an Exceptional Second-Shooter and Expected Etiquette

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

After hiring and working with multiple second-shooters over the years, I have realised there are some things that need to be put into writing! Second-shooting is so much more than being present at a wedding with a camera.

Here's my list of non-negotiables:

  1. You MUST shoot in RAW

  2. You need to be writing to two memory cards at once, at all times

  3. Bring your own memory cards and batteries

  4. Knowing the basics of flash and make sure you bring it, whether you think you'll need it or not

  5. NEVER delete images straight from your camera (this can actually corrupt a memory card)

  6. DO NOT make decisions on behalf of the lead photographer (this applies to changing of timelines, changing of locations, choosing to shoot in only black and white, etc.)

  7. You must back-up all the images you took until I've delivered the final gallery

Second-Shooting Tips

When capturing by yourself, imagine that every image has three story-telling angles (let's be honest the angle options are endless, but these together will help the story unfold): 1) the wide shot, capturing the whole story. 2) the portrait shot, capturing the main subject. 3) the detail shot, capturing the little things. An example of this would be: the groom and his friends sharing a glass of whiskey together. 1) get the whole room, and the atmosphere. 2) up close of them cheers-ing, with whiskey in hand. 3) just the grooms hand, holding the glass of whiskey.

When I second shoot, I will ask for details. "Hey groom, do you have a cologne you're wearing today? Shoes? Bow tie? Watch? Belt? Cigars? Sentimental belongings? Do you have any special embroideries in your suit jacket I should know about?"

LET THEM STRUGGLE. It sounds meaner than it is, and as a people pleaser I have a hard time with this...but if they don't know how to tie a tie, let them figure it out together. Staying hands-off and letting them figure it out will be more memorable, and give you a chance to photograph the trial and error part too, which can make for some awesome candids.

Try not to stand in the same spot as the lead, unless asked (I will ask you to for the first kiss). There's no point of both the lead and second-shooter getting the exact same photo. Think about how you can alter the pose from a different viewpoint! When you and the lead are capturing the same pose, this is your chance to get creative in new ways without the pressure of delivering THE shot.

WHENEVER IN DOUBT - ask the lead photographer. I was second-shooting a wedding when a vendor said the first look location had changed (spoiler: it had not). Said vendor had tried to usher us both into a vehicle to go to the new spot...I made sure to stick to my guns, and tell the groom we weren't going to go there until I had been instructed to by the lead photographer. Sure enough, the spot had not changed, and had I followed the wrong direction, it could've messed up the timeline but also ran the risk of the groom seeing the bride prematurely.

These lovely second-shooter images were taken by Ashley Lazette, a gal who I would hire any day of the week.

What your day will typically look like:

On a typical wedding day, I will have my second-shooter's capture the morning of the groom or secondary spouse getting ready (all spouses are equal! As lead, I will generally be shooting where there's more details that need capturing. Often times, this is with the bride). If there's a first look involved, we will coordinate that together and execute it so that we are capturing both reactions.

During the ceremony my main ask is that we are getting each angle of the couple from different sides - keeping in mind to not be in each other's shots. When it comes to the kiss, I will ask that you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me as this is a shot we don't want to miss.

A big portion is helping gather the family and being the second-set of eyes during the family photos portion. I will have a list and ask that you que up the next grouping, as I am taking photos.

In some instances, like a tight timeline, I might ask that you go get the reception details before the guests pour in while I finish taking photos of the wedding party, etc. this is not always the case, but can happen.

From then on - it's pretty straight forward in terms of lots of candids, and moments like formal entrances, speeches, cake cutting, and first dance. I consider these to be a bit of a "free for all", and just ask that we again, stay out of each others shots.

Additionally, if it any part of the day, I'm directing the couple and you see something that can improve the shot (have the bride move her hand up, or someone turning their face a little) I'm always open to suggestions and ideas. If I've stopped to change a lens, battery, etc. please feel free to pose the client as long as I've not asked them to stay put.

These two shots of the same moment wouldn't have been possible without Ashley Lazette as my second-shooter.


Learning to shoot weddings is a HUGE task - but what needs more discussion is around wedding etiquette. Learn when to give the couple space, they don't need a camera in their face the entire day. Getting some behind-the-scenes on your phone can be great, but it is not professional to be on your phone the entire day; it is their wedding and we need to stay present and remember it is not about us.

Getting the shot is important but it is just as crucial to be able to read the room and know when to back up and stay quiet for the moment, or when to get involved and raise the energy if people are losing steam.

Dress wedding appropriate - but also work appropriate. An elegant outfit but paired with comfortable footwear is a must. No ripped jeans or sweatpants. Spaghetti straps are fine especially if it's hot out, but use your best judgement when it comes to how revealing a wedding outfit is. If you show up wearing a white dress, you're dead to me (kidding...kind of).

IF something goes wrong on the wedding is very important that we keep our cool. It's a big day with many moving parts, so the likelihood of something happening is high - do not freak out. Get in touch with your lead photographer, be patient if you can't get ahold of them immediately, and use your best judgement. I've had cameras stop working, flashes stop working, second-shooters who get into a car accident, been given the wrong location for a ceremony, etc. I always bring backup, and getting flustered will only make a situation worse.

THAT BEING SAID...if something goes wrong where you've suddenly become ill, are experiencing harassment, or feel threatened, you're always welcome to remove yourself from the situation. Your safety and the couples safety is my number 1 priority. Get you, or the couple to safety, contact 9-1-1 if needed, and inform me as soon as possible.

Things that aren't necessary - but are a nice addition:

  • Helping carry gear

  • Keeping an eye on the timeline

  • Redirecting people lingering in the background

  • Fetching water for you & your lead when appropriate

  • Getting some behind-the-scenes content

Post-Ceremony Etiquette:

  • Not posting any photos to your social media or website until after the lead photographer has delivered the final gallery (although this is pretty standard, some photographers will not allow for any posting, so make sure you check first)

  • Not tagging any of the vendors or clients in posts (remember, these are the relationships the lead photographer has been nurturing over the past year or so)

  • Directing any requests from the client and/or vendors to the lead photographer

  • Tagging the lead photographer in your social media posts. Example: *insert caption here* second-shot for @jasminejonesphoto

  • Not using the posts as sponsored posts

  • Absolutely NOT submitting to publications

  • When in doubt, ask the lead photographer

If you're new to the industry, this might sound a little discouraging...but as you grow and have second-shooters for yourself, you will learn that business boundaries are a must. When you're shooting for me, you're representing my business and what I've been building since 2016. It's a job I have been hired for, that you're helping with. If you're good at what you do, are respectful, and follow the etiquette, word will quickly spread and you'll be asked to shoot for other photographers. This is not only a great way to build your photography skills, but with a good reputation amongst your community, your peers will likely suggest you to other clients when they're busy. I continue to second-shoot all the time, because I love working with other creatives, and being able to try new techniques at a wedding I am not leading.

Happy shooting and let me know if you have any other questions!

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